Ski resort features
Zermatt: Ski with views of the Matterhorn
Zermatt is the highest skiing region in Switzerland, and indeed the entire Alps. Thanks to its altitude – extending from 1,620 to 3,899 metres – the skiing area opens from late November to the end of April, and snow is guaranteed. The Zermatt skiing region has 360 kilometres of ski slopes, 75 kilometres of which are classified blue, with 220 kilometres of red runs and 26 kilometres of expert black descents. The region also offers 38 signposted freeride routes. Skiers and snowboarders are transported up the mountains by a total of 18 gondolas and numerous other lifts.
The region is divided into the Rothorn, Gornergrat, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Breuil-Cervinia and Valtournenche areas. With 38 four-thousand-metre peaks dotted around the skiing region, sensational views are assured. Zermatt is car-free and accessed via the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn railway. When the expansive skiing area closes in the spring and most of the slopes are closed, the summer skiing zone remains open for downhill and carving; at that time, 21 kilometres of slopes are still open on Zermatt’s Theodul Glacier.
As far as snow and winter conditions are concerned, Zermatt is simply a paradise, with three metres or more falling on the mountains and snow depths of 1.5 metres even down in the valley. Nor can Zermatt complain about a lack of sunshine: the sun comes out on two days out of three on average, making Zermatt the sunniest place in Switzerland.
Calling all endurance skiers: Zermatt has the longest groomed ski slope in the world! Leading from the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise to Zermatt, the slope extends for an incredible 25 kilometres. Winter sportspeople can also savour the long descent from the Klein Matterhorn to Zermatt, covering 16 kilometres over an altitude differential of 2,279 metres. Alternatively, endurance skiers can tackle the 14 kilometres from the Klein Matterhorn to Breuil-Cervinia, an altitude differential of 1,900 metres. Skiers attempting these lengthy descents will need to pace themselves as the lower sections get much steeper and more demanding.
Those who relish a challenge will easily find demanding slopes in the Zermatt area, the toughest of which is black slope 62; situated in the Italian area of Cervinia, the expert run has gradients of up to 70%. Freeriders, meanwhile, enjoy navigating the slopes behind the Gornergrat ridge in Stockhorn. Heli-skiing is also possible in the vicinity of the Dufourspitze and Monte Rosa. Snowpark Zermatt is a wonderland for freeskiers and snowboarders; accessed via the cable car to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the Snowpark is open almost all year. With kickers, rails, obstacles, jib features and a superpipe, adventure and adrenaline are guaranteed; there is plenty for everyone to enjoy, from beginners to professionals. That said, the Gravity Park at Furggsattel is reserved for experts, who can perform daredevil jumps thanks to a megapipe. While Zermatt is particularly geared towards professionals, there are plenty of slopes for newcomers too: the lifts at Randa and the Täsch ski lift provide access to an ideal training ground. For the very newest skiers, a special beginners’ park at Sunnegga has child-friendly lifts, ‘magic carpets’ and play equipment. Those who come for leisure skiing are advised to head for the Blauherd descents of the Sunnegga-Rothorn area or the gentle descents of the Theodul Glacier. Slopes for carvers are concentrated at the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
Away from the slopes, there is plenty to do in Zermatt:
• Winter and snowshoe treks promise unique views of the surrounding mountains. Above Zermatt there are several viewing platforms on which to unwind.
• Three well maintained toboggan runs offer winter sportspeople a fast track downhill.
• In the centre of Zermatt is a natural and artificial ice rink where visitors can perform pirouettes – or at least try to. Bavarian curling is played at the Sport- und Freizeitarena Zermatt. For a different perspective of the ice, why not try ice climbing? Those who have always wanted to use crampons and ice axes can do so in Zermatt.
• A visit to Zermatlantis, the Matterhorn Museum, offers insights into the history of Zermatt and its rise to a leading centre of alpine sport. Exhibits include the actual rope used in the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
• An excursion to the brewery at Zermatt is also worthwhile; the one-hour tour concludes with an opportunity to sample the Monte Rosa and Matterhorn beer varieties.
• Looking for a healthy diversion? Many of the local spa and wellness hotels offer day access to outside guests.
The calibre of the Zermatt skiing region is clear from the range of places to eat and drink. Catering to the needs of guests are 57 mountain restaurants and cabins, many of superior standard. One especially refined choice is Les Marmottes at the Furi station, where such specialities as game, lamb and smoked fish are served at an altitude of 1,870 metres (with the appropriate wines, of course). Another cosy mountain cabin is located on the piste at Sunnegga-Findeln: the Adler-Hitta, which serves a mixture of Valais and international specialities, has a sun terrace with superb views of the Matterhorn. Meanwhile the Foyer des Guides is located on the Reine Blanche descent to Valtournenche. Combining tradition and modernity, the mountain lodge serves risotto, seafood pasta and generous meat dishes that go well with Prosecco. A special place to eat is the Igloo Village at the Rotenboden. Here at 2,500 metres above sea level, guests make themselves comfortable over home-made mulled wine and cheese fondue. Other good places to stop include the Restaurant Stafelalp, Käsestube Furgg, Bergrestaurant Blatten, Berghaus Grünsee and Chez Vrony.
For some après-ski action, the party crowd heads for the Hennu Stall on the descent from Furi to Zermatt. In Zermatt itself, music plays and the drinks flow until the early hours at the Papperla Pub, the Pink Live Music Bar and the Schneewittli. Classy restaurants also open in the vicinity for evening meals. There are around 100 restaurants in Zermatt, many of which are star-rated; the After Seven, where head chef Ivo Adam treats diners to a fusion of regional and exotic creations, has 15 Gault Millau points and one Michelin star. Elsewhere, the Alpenhof Le Gourmet also boasts 15 Gault Millau points. At the China Garden – the recipient of 13 Gault Millau points – head chef Chen Lijun brings the finest Far Eastern cuisine to the heart of the Swiss Alps.